The historic, elegant island of Nantucket offers lots of diversions during a day
trip from your Cape
For nearly 100 years – from the mid-1700s to the late 1830s – Nantucket was the
whaling capital of the world, with as many as 150 ships making port in Nantucket
during its peak. Much of its character today was shaped by the whaling industry
and the fortunes of the whaling captains, including the cobblestone streets, gas
street lamps, and impressive 18th century sea captains’ mansions and homes with
their widows’ walks.
You can fly or take the ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket. Both the Steamship Authority
and Hy-Line Cruises have a regular (a little over 2 hours) and a fast (about one
hour) ferry. A high-speed ferry from Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich Port via Freedom
Cruise Lines takes just over an hour. Don’t worry about bringing your car as the
island has a very good shuttle bus service.
If you arrive by ferry, you’ll step ashore onto either Steamboat or Straight Wharf
in the heart of Nantucket town. Spectacular mega yachts sit in the harbor, and quaint
fishing shacks, now high end shops, line the wharves.
Nantucket Whaling Museum
Close to the wharves is the Nantucket Whaling Museum, housed in a building dating
back to the mid 1800s and totally restored in 2005. Suspended from the ceiling is
the complete skeleton of a 46-foot bull sperm whale that washed ashore on New Year's
Day in 1998. The museum also houses a large collection of whaling artifacts and
memorabilia, including longboats, harpoons, and scrimshaw.
After a visit to the whaling museum, make your way to Nantucket Town’s Main Street
a few blocks away to browse through the exclusive shops and galleries. Be prepared
for sticker shock, though, for Nantucket shopping is not for the faint of wallet.
However, you will find many one-of-a-kind items, such as the Nantucket lightship
basket. Still hand crafted on the island, this basket has long been recognized as
one of America's most unique folk art treasures. The
Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum is worth a visit.
More shopping, along with waterfront dining, can be found along Nantucket’s wharves.
Having fallen into disuse in the depression following the demise of Nantucket’s
whaling industry, Nantucket's wharves and cottages sat empty and derelict. Today
they are home to art galleries, crafts and jewelry shops, and restaurants and are
a must see when visiting the island. The architecture has been maintained, and many
of the buildings are original.
Along Nantucket town’s residential streets are the stately Georgian, Federal, and
Greek Revival sea captains’ homes along with charming antique cottages, often with
hydrangea and rose bushes in full bloom. Guided walking tours can be arranged
at the Whaling Museum as well as at the Nantucket Preservation Trust at 55 Main
Street. Some homes are open to the public for a fee.
Be sure to visit our Vacation Planner for more ideas or to check out restaurant
menus or directions to many shops and galleries.
After enjoying lunch, you’ll want to explore more of the island. Nantucket Regional
Transit Authority offers several shuttle routes for access to beaches and scenic
areas of the island. A one-day pass is just $7.00.
One of the more popular routes goes to Siasconset (pronounced “sconset”), a quaint,
picturesque town on the eastern shore of the island known for its cottages covered
in rose-filled trellises and glimpses of the ocean as a backdrop. There are also
several small shops and restaurants and a beautiful stretch of beach.
A stop at Sankaty Head Golf Course will enable you to tour Sankaty Light, which
was built on a 90-foot bluff in 1850. In 2007, it was repositioned 250 feet away
from the eroding shore to near the 5th hole of the golf course.
The shuttle has routes to most of Nantucket’s beaches. If your goal is to just hit
the beach, take the shuttle to Jetties Beach ($1) or Surfside Beach ($2). If you’d
like to see more of the island and points of interest, the Madaket Route to Madaket
Beach or Miacomet Route to Surfside beach are good choices. Note there is a one-mile
walk or bike ride from the shuttle stop to Surfside beach, but the shuttles are
equipped to carry a limited number of bikes on a first come, first served basis.
Brant Point Lighthouse
Lastly, the Mid Island Loop route will take you to shops, restaurants, and other
points of interest in Nantucket Town’s mid island areas.
Leave time before you board the ferry back to the mainland to visit Brant Point
Light, a short walk from the wharf. This is the country’s second oldest light, and
the grounds include an 1856 keeper's house and two range light towers.
With any luck, you’ll enjoy a beautiful Nantucket Sound sunset on your return trip
to Hyannis, capping off an idyllic island day.